Agni Keli is also called as the Fire Fight of Kateel. It takes place in Durga Parameshwari Temple situated in Mangalore, India. It is a unique and rare ritual that has hundreds of devotees hurling burning palm fronds at each other in order to appease the Hindu goddess Durga. The tradition famously known as ‘Agni Keli’ is called as Toothedhara(in Tulu). It has been carried out in the temple during the festival for many centuries.
Agni Keli – The Fire Festival of India
The Agni Keli festival as it is called occurs in Mangalore every year in the month of April. It continues for at least 8 days. During this period of time, the participants of this festival who are generally topless are needed to throw lit torches. This is done in the direction of each other from a distance of at least 30 to 50 feet. Though the cloth is worn below the waist only, it is common for the garments to catch fire and several individuals have suffered fatal and dangerous burn injuries while performing these rituals.
The Main Celebration
Every year, the Festival of Kateel in Durga Parameshwari Temple begins on the night before Mesha Sankramana Day. It features a string of themed performances of which the most intriguing one is the Agni Keli. On the second night of the festival, thousands of devotees gather at this temple of Durga in the city of Mangalore in order to carry out this centuries-old tradition. As mentioned earlier it involves throwing and also getting hit with extremely burning palm fronds. This fiery and feisty action is witnessed by thousands of spectators, who actually watch as the torch-wielding men make an attempt to set one other ablaze.
Rules of the Festival
The rules of Agni Keli have always been extremely simple. The devotees who participate in the firefight split themselves into two groups and face one another from at least a distance of 10 – 15 meters. They are armed with a hefty supply of burning palm frond torches. One by one they start throwing these burning fronds at one another making an attempt to hit as many devotees from the opposing group as possible.
While the holy fire fight is going on, each participant is allowed to make only five throws and the sixth time the palm fronds have to be discarded. Thus, everyone tries to make their shots count. In order to avoid serious burns, the men prefer wearing only one piece of cloth around their lower body. However, they are often set ablaze during this ritual and when this happens the person is sprayed with water of Kumkumarchane.
Since everyone has only a limited number of throws, Agni Keli lasts just for about 15 minutes. However, that’s apparently just enough to venerate the goddess Durga and please the spectators watching at the festival from a safe distance. The devotees at the Durgaparameshwari temple witness this centuries old unique ritual and tradition of pleasing the Gods and display their reverence to the deity Durga.
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